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Column originally published Apr 30, 2024

Children Should Get Measles Vaccine As Well As All Other Childhood Vaccines To Protect Them

Question: We have recently adopted my sister’s two girls, four and six years of age. They are a bit busy, but they have become wonderful siblings for our ten-year-old daughter. My sister has serious mental health issues; these girls were placed in a foster home briefly before we adopted them. We know that they didn’t receive any vaccine since birth. We are planning a trip to Europe this summer, to visit my husband’s relatives there. I have heard about the measles outbreaks in Europe and in Canada. Our oldest daughter is fully vaccinated, but I am concerned about the younger ones. I wonder whether we should get them vaccinated before we take this trip.


I am glad that you are in a position to adopt and raise your sister’s children when she is unable to do that. She might not have been able to schedule for their vaccination when she had to deal with her own mental health challenges.

The short answer for your question is this: they should be immunized with measles as well as other childhood vaccines before your travel this summer. This will reduce the chance of them contracting serious infections, including measles, that are preventable with immunization.

Measles is one of the most preventable infection that Canada had almost completely eliminated over two decades ago. It is a very contagious virus; almost every child was infected in the first few years of life before measles vaccine became available in 1960s. In addition to high fever, running nose, and cough, there is a severe rash that spreads from the face to the rest of the body, the arms, and the legs.

Measles infection can lead to many complications, including ear infection, croup, and pneumonia. Children were dying from complications of pneumonia as well as encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. That was why measles vaccine was a high priority for scientists to develop in the middle of last century.

Once measles immunization was widely implemented across Canada, the number of children infected with measles was drastically reduced. In the last two decades, there were very few infections reported in Canada. Those infected were not fully immunized, and they contracted measles when they were travelling abroad. There was no further spread of the virus from these infected individuals because most Canadians have immunity to measles.

Unfortunately, in recent years, some children didn’t get vaccinated for various reasons. There is a large enough population of unvaccinated and unprotected Canadians that allows measles virus the chance to spread once it is imported by sick travellers. As a result, a number of Canadians in several provinces have contracted measles and they have no history of travelling abroad.

The best way to prevent measles, and many other serious childhood infections, is through immunization. The MMRV vaccine can prevent measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox (also called varicella) viruses. Other vaccines can prevent meningitis, a serious and sometimes fatal bacterial infection of the brain. There is a vaccine that can protect children from developing severe bacterial pneumonia. Some of these vaccines can be given together.

You should meet with public health nurses in your area, and work out a plan to have your two younger daughters vaccinated timely, so that they can be protected from viruses and bacteria that can make them sick during your travel. Enjoy your trip to Europe.